Simon foreground, Gavin at rear
At the suggestion of a stone wall builder friend – Gavin Dench – who is also a keen enthusiast for wood fired pots – I eventually decided to replace a rather dilapidated wire fence near the house with a stone wall built from stones collected from this property. If I had known at commencement what sort of task it turned out to be I probably would not have started. Having built it now, I have absolutely no regrets and it has become an increasing pleasure as time goes on and it grows into the landscape.
The comments (or lack of them) have been interesting and attest to the way the wall has so quickly become a part of the landscape. Two people have asked if I have done a whole lot of clearing to reveal the old wall, others have simply made no comment, or asked how long it had been there because they had not noticed it before.
Its stats are interesting and would have frightened me before it was started. It is 50 metres long and at 2.7 tonnes per cubic metre of stone it weighs around 135 tonnes. Each of those tonnes was probably lifted by me, Gavin or Simon (the other stone man who worked on the project) at least three times if not more. This included picking them out of the piles they had been put in by previous occupants of the land. Then stacking them into the bucket of the front end loader which dumped them on the ground near where they would be used. They were then lifted into place and often moved to another, sometimes discarded or put somewhere else for a better fit. Often a recalcitrant stone would be tried out in as many as half a dozen places before being completely abandoned but having to be loaded again into the bucket for a return to a stone pile. I’d guess that each stone was lifted at least four times. This made the combined human lifting at around 500 tonnes over the six weeks that we worked when it wasn’t too wet.
The stones were used with their length going in towards the centre of the wall and usually angling downwards for strength. The wall has a layer on each side which slope towards each other. This left a cavity in the centre which gradually narrowed towards the top. The wall is about a metre wide at the bottom and 70 cm at the top. The cavity is filled initially with other less useful rocks and the whole lot is tied together with (hand) smashed and wedged splinters which grip and wedge each side together. The aim was to have no stones, apart from those at the very top, able to be pulled out once the wall was built.
I should also mention that some of the base rocks are up to half a tonne each and were manoeuvred into place by hand and lever. The requirements for shape changed as the wall progressed from ‘base stones’ to ‘building stones’ to ‘capping stones’ for the top layer. The wall sits in a 15cm trench to locate it with a foundation in the ground. I calculate that there are about 2500 stones in that wall ranging in size from 500kgs down to 1kg. The main architects of this monument are Gavin Dench (04 387 9955) and Simon Fern (04 977 1955) and they seem keen to continue building walls with other clients in other parts of the country…